Saturday, September 30, 2006

Good news, bad news

So I had plans, man, big plans. For the Carolina game, for the grandest, most bad-ass recap you’ve ever seen. Dancing elephants. A cast of thousands.

Then I had to work Thursday night. And a horrific, incomprehensible DVR disaster resulted in my never seeing the first eight minutes or final five minutes of the game. Those last five in particular, as I found out on the Internet with my heart not so much “in my throat” as “massaging my friggin’ uvula,” were pretty damn important minutes.

And I don’t want to fake that. Instead, we’re going to look at the good news and bad news delivered by this game. As already mentioned this week, this seems like a contradictory type of time for Auburn, and nothing’s more contradictory than finishing a game and thinking “We won … I'm not supposed to feel like my pet gerbil just died, am I?”

GOOD NEWS: Will Herring outdueled Rice for a terrific pick and looks like, arguably, the best player on the defense. This is a development that ranks on the Surprising Scale somewhere just above “Orlando Bloom wins an Oscar” and just behind “Hezbollah, the Likud sit down to pork chops, talks.”
BAD NEWS: Zach Gilbert? The new Old Will Herring. Picked on like he was wearing braces.

BAD NEWS: Second-and-four for Auburn in the fourth, defense having sucked all night and then sucking wind on the sideline, and Irons and Borges’ bunch can’t get the first down. They didn’t exactly milk much of the clock in the fourth quarter against LSU, either.
GOOD NEWS: I’m not about to say a bad word about an offense that has only six non-kneel-down possessions in a stupid-loud stadium and scores three touchdowns and a field goal on them. I don’t know what Cox’s stats on third down were, but I think they were along the lines of 27-28, 397 yards, 4 TDs. A 3rd-and-21 conversion in that cauldron? Sick. Owning the entire third quarter? Also sick. Maybe the third-and-2 call in the fourth could have been better—but unlike what some people would have you think, not because it was a run (isn’t the point to burn clock?), but because I think on third-and-2, you load up and bring the two tight ends, fullback, etc. But it’s quibbling. 24 points in six possessions? In Borges we trust.

GOOD NEWS: The onsides kick was brilliant coaching on Gran and Tuberville’s part and astonishing execution by Clark.
BAD NEWS: Was it really a good idea to have Tre Smith try to catch something so similar to a punt return? Dunn’s job is safer than Joe Paterno's.

BAD NEWS: SC’s Lemuel Jean-Pierre had a sack, only two weeks after LSU’s Ricky Jean-Francois gave the AU line serious problems.
GOOD NEWS: Surely there aren’t any more Cajuns or Cajun-esque players on opposing defensive lines. Surely.

GOOD NEWS: Fowler and Herbstreit were on hand to broadcast the game.
BAD NEWS: They appeared to be broadcasting from the bridge of a small gaudy spaceship from the late 1980s, hovering somewhere anonymous on campus and watching the game on gaudy monitors. Who needs the press box, or even a stadium?

GOOD NEWS: Marquies Gunn’s fumble return followed by a re-fumble was, at the least, entertaining and pushed the ‘Cocks back some 50 yards.
BAD NEWS: ESPN couldn’t cue the circus clown music fast enough.

GOOD NEWS: Lee Guess sighting! And for a huge third-down conversion, no less.
BAD NEWS: There is no negative side to a Lee Guess sighting. Although when Fowler mentioned that Guess had graduated in three years, would it have hurt him to mention the charming, handsome graduate student who taught Guess Freshman Composition and gave him the communication skills that sent him on his academic way? (Actually, yes, it would have.)

GOOD NEWS: The defense made the big plays—the Herring pick, the fourth-down swat by Lee and Brock—they had to to earn victory on the road against an opponent playing its best possible football.
BAD NEWS: After a punt on the first drive of the game, the ‘Cocks had six possessions and drove to the Auburn 32 or closer all six times. Their last three drives covered 75, 93, and 75 yards. After the Auburn defense sat all halftime and the entire third quarter stewing over the ‘Cocks half-ending touchdown drive, they came out and … promptly watched Newton slice them up like Arby’s roast beef. 93 yards for a score. I don’t care that Newton played out of his mind. I don’t care if Spurrier still clearly has a few tricks up his sleeve. Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care. If Auburn plays defense like that against Florida, Georgia, and ‘Bama, we will go 0-3 in those games. It is NOT acceptable.

BAD NEWS: That defense will cost Auburn in the polls. Tubby can crow as much as he likes, but if your D goes out on Thursday night and gives up more yardage than a Free Rope! charity, you’re going to drop (assuming Ohio St. and USC win, hardly a sure thing.) Even the JCCW would rank Michigan second at this point.
GOOD NEWS: I could not possibly care less. If Auburn continues to win, things will work themselves out. Look: only three teams can logically finish ahead of an undefeated Auburn in the polls. Ohio St., USC, and Michigan. (The Louisville/West Virginia winner will have no big wins aside from that one.) Two of those teams play each other as well as a wildly dangerous Iowa team on the road. The other plays a host of scary foes, even if at home. There is going to be, at most, two undefeated teams at the end of the 2006 season. Bet on it.

But whatever you do, don’t be on these:


After last week’s remarkable 2-4 week, the JCCW is at 7-9 on the season. My big underdog, Rice, got creamed. My big favorite, West Virginia, farted around. Of course. Maybe things will be better this week. But I doubt it.

NOTRE DAME (-14 ½) over Purdue: Purdue went to overtime with Miami (Ohio). They are not good enough to hang with Notre Dame on the road.

Alabama (+16) over FLORIDA: 16 points? Holy crap! Florida barely covered that against Kentucky! Plus I get the feeling this is one of Shula’s “Watch out, I might be an emotionless robot, but I can gameplan like hell” games.

Georgia Tech (+10) over VIRGINIA TECH: Va. Tech barely covered against Duke and failed to against Cincinnati. Now they have suspended players against a schizo team that seems to thrive in these sorts of games. Gimme the points.

Tennessee (-13 1/2 ) over MEMPHIS: Memphis lost to Ole Miss and fired its defensive coordinator this week. Tennesee crushed Marshall last week. This is easy.

Oregon (pick) over ARIZONA ST.: C’mon. I’d take Oregon if they were a double-digit favorite.

Michigan (-10) over MINNESOTA: Michigan is going to have a close call one of these weeks, but Minnesota lost to Purdue. It ain’t happening today.

Friday, September 29, 2006

$20,000 College Football Pyramid: A Short Play in One Act

Int.: The set of the 1980s game show "$20,000 Pyramid." Dick Clark is at a bright red railing explaining the rules to two conteststants, Greg and Cindy, whose clothing and hairstyle and fundamentally hilarious.

DICK CLARK: Remember, usually we would have a whole pyramid of clues, but the guy who normally rings the bell and turns the panels around to the "pyramid" icon is on vacation in Vegas, so we're just doing three today. You've very fortunate. All right players, you've got 60 seconds. Go!

GREG: Jokes about Chuck Amato's man-boobs ... the Temple line each week ... Lou Holtz's senile babblings, if you look at them the right way ...
CINDY: Things that are always hilarious?

GREG: Oregon's uniforms ... any game involving the Mississippi SEC schools ... Mitch Mustain's performance againt 'Bama ... ESPN's new college football sets ...
CINDY: Things that are eye-searingly ugly?

GREG: One of those huge banners that high school football players run through onto the field ... a beaded curtain ... an empty tollbooth plaza ...
CINDY: Things that are Irish, things that are associated with the electric toaster?
BELL: [silent]
GREG: Tissue paper ... butter, vis a vis a hot knife ... the tape at the end of a marathon ...
CINDY: Things that are covered in gravy? Things that are useful in defending one's home against vampires?
BELL: [you're way off]
GREG: a sieve ... the Auburn Tigers' defense against South Carolina Thursday night ...
CINDY: Oh, things that are shockingly easy to move through!
CINDY: pwned!
BALLOONS: [fall from the ceiling]
DICK CLARK: I'm immortal!


Mostly full recap tomorrow a.m.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Open letter to Auburn fans

My fellow Auburn fans: War Eagle.

These are, as some old dead British dude once said, the best of times and the worst of times.

These are the best of times because our Auburn Tigers have never been in better shape as a program. As long as Tubby continues recruiting the way he does, Borges is around to make every other SEC OC look like Noel Mazzone, and the defensive coordinator position is manned by someone with a pulse (and Muschamp appears to have enough vigor for two or three pulses), we’re not going anywhere. We’re top-five now. We’ll be top-10 or top-15 next season, and the year after that. And in 2006, of course, the Tigers already have a huge leg up in the race to Atlanta and might---might--just be the best team in the nation. Even at the height of the Dye years, Auburn was a team that would find a way to drop at least one or two big games a year (Dye's record vs. Florida, most of it pre-Spurrier: 5-7). Tubby’s 8-1 now against top-10 teams, has run the table once, and looks eminently capable of doing the same again one of these years. Also, the Tide are busy losing to teams whose quarterback went 7-22 with three picks. Things could not be better.

If not, anyway, for the looming twin specters of 2003 and 2004. 2003 tells us that no matter how good our team looks, it can all unravel in our faces at a moment’s notice. 2004 tells us that no matter how good our team plays, the season can still end in frustration and bitterness. We all look back on 2004 with fondness, of course. But I don’t know one of us who doesn’t grind his or her teeth with vehemence at the thought of reliving it.

And this where we as Auburn fans are. Stoked, psyched, delighted at our team, yes. But not as stoked, psyched, and delighted as we ought to be, since thanks to 2003 and 2004 so many of us are in a nagging state of worry, fret, and restlessness about what seesm like an inevitable letdown. And we know it. It’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times.

So what do we do? Here’s five suggestions (for myself, as well as you) I’ve got for getting through the rest of the season with a maximum of “best of” and a minimum of “worst of”:

1. Don’t freak about the polls. Of course anyone who thinks Southern Cal has been more impressive in defeating a team with a wide receiver playing quarterback, a team that played to cover the spread, and a team that LSU defeated 45-3—and only the first one at all impressively—than a team that actually beat LSU themselves obviously didn’t have enough ventilation in the room where they built model airplanes as a kid. But it’s September. There are so many games to be played—by Auburn, by Ohio St., by USC, by all the undefeated teams. If Auburn fans freak now, and the media decide to play up the freakingness, the team is eventually going to freak in their own subdued way, too. They’re going to take the field against opponents concerned about how good the win will look rather winning, and against teams like Florida, Georgia, and even the Tide that may not work. An undefeated season is still so far, far away. Let’s let it get closer to reality before we worry about it being ignored again. Speaking of which…

2. Root for Florida. Not just against the Tide, either. Consider the following scenario: a) the Gators struggle with the Tide b) Tubby takes full advantage of the extra preparation to ensure Auburn whips the Hogs senseless, ordering a late touchdown to stretch the final margin past USC’s for the sake of the pollsters c) the Gators lose at home by two scores to LSU d) the newly-crowned BCS No. 2 Tigers click-clack out against the “reeling” Gators at home Oct. 14 with classic Tubby, uh, confidence and … e) the Gators go up by 17 at the break and hold off a second-half comeback to win. I wish it was tougher to envision that scenario coming to life, I do. But remember, LSU lived it themselves only three seasons ago, and that was when Florida was coached by a walking punchline. Those Tigers got away with it. Ours wouldn’t be that Notre Dame-ishly lucky. Let the Gators come into Jordan-Hare undefeated and ranked just behind us, though, and this wouldn’t be an issue. Plus, let’s be honest, the West is ours if LSU drops another one. So, uh, Go Gators!

3. Don’t needle the Tide about Tiffin more than absolutely necessary. If it wasn’t for John Parker Wilson, I’d say sure, open season. But unfortunately Wilson has talent. And unfortunately, terrific as it is, Auburn’s secondary remains the iffiest part of the defense. After “Fear the Thumb,” no way karma’s not on the Tide’s side. So try not to offer too many cracks about how long it took Florida St. to reach Wide Right III (i.e. several years) vs. Leigh Tiffin (i.e. one afternoon), or how far this particular apple rolled when it feel from the tree, or anything like that, unless you want J**n V****n to look like this again. Besides, we’ve got 28-14 and four wins in a row. What else do we really need?

4. Savor the victories. Like tonight’s, for example. I wouldn’t normally be so supremely confident, but there’s simply no way a team that defeats Wofford 27-20 defeats Auburn two weeks later. There is no way a team that cannot score a single point against Georgia at home will score more than a team with a rested Kenny Irons and Brandon Cox. The Tigers will win, they will very likely win by two scores, and they will give us another reason to be thankful that we are not Ole Miss fans, or Miss St. fans, or Michigan St. fans (heaven help them) which we could so easily be if not for whatever happy accident of geography or enrollment decision or parentage led us to Auburn fandom. Our team has not always been able to reliably defeat the South Carolinas of the world, and such a time may come again someday. Much better to enjoy this time rather than worrying about…

5. …the polls. Seriously, don’t freak about them. Look, Ohio St. still has to play at Iowa, at Michigan St., and vs. Michigan. USC has it worse … at Wazzu, vs. Washington, vs. Oregon, vs. Cal, vs. Notre Dame, at UCLA. Michigan could conceivably jump Auburn by beating OSU, but they’ve got Michigan St. and Iowa, too. Perhaps more than anything, consider that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country haven’t lost a game since 2002. They’re due. If Auburn is fortunate and focused enough to go 13-0—which I have to maintain is less likely than a loss popping up somewhere—it’ll happen for them this time.

Recap of the Carolina game should be up either tomorrow morning or first thing Saturday.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Remaining thoughts from whatever games I followed Saturday …


Blake Field “of Dreams” is still perfect on the season. 8-for-8 now after his second 4-4 performance, against the Bulls. I wish this meant anything besides “Blake Field is excellent at throwing very short, conservative routes in blowouts against horrible teams.” But it doesn’t, and as the Auburner points out, anyone who thinks otherwise needs to have a sound beating administered.

As expected, not only did the national media not notice Auburn was only up 17-7 in the third, they’ve actually given Auburn credit for accomplishing a 38-7 blowout without the aid of Irons, Wilhite, etc. Sweet.


I’ll second what a lot of other commentators have already said: if I’m in charge in Tuscaloosa, I’m replacing Ken Darby with Jimmy Johns. I wouldn’t have expected Shula to do it last week—Darby is a senior and has always been so solid, Shula was right to give him every chance. But after Darby spent yet another game not so much hitting the hole as gently caressing it after pulling off a quick soft-shoe in the backfield, it’s time for “Sandwiches” to, uh, start toting the loaf. (OK, sorry, it’s late, you’re going to have to come up with your own sandwich-related euphemism for running the ball.)

One last thing: how weird is it that Alabama is now a pass-first team that will rely on team star John Parker Wilson to open things up for the iffy running game? Quite frankly, I think they were less dangerous the other way, when you could squeeze the box fuller than a carton of Krispy Kremes and assume Wilson wouldn’t beat you. Now we know he just might be able to, especially if the guys calling the plays will let him.


Not sure how I came away impressed by both these teams, but I did. Florida’s line looked like it’s finally learned how to block, Leak was money when he had to be, and with Tebow around, Meyer’s going to be able to throw a better change-up than Tom Glavine. I thought before last week LSU would bring the Gators’ heads back to the bayou, dry them, and sell them as souvenirs to tourists with no sense of taste … and now? LSU still wins, but it’s a tussle.

That said, I’m still glad that … wait for it, this is probably the first time these words have ever been typed by an Auburn fan … glad that Kentucky’s not on our schedule. Their defense isn’t such that Auburn would be in any danger of actually losing, but Woodson can play and if Little was healthy, their offense could put an annoying (read: poll-position-damaging) number of points on the board. Spurrier or no Spurrier, I’d be more worried about the ‘Cats than I am the ‘Cocks.


--How happy do you think Cutcliffe is about the nuclear implosion happening at Ole Miss right now? Does he throw himself a party five nights a week or just four, because it is the middle of the season and all?
--It’s early, but Tebow has already dropped out of the running for the coveted “Most Embarrassingly Overhyped Freshman SEC Quarterback” award. It’s now a two-horse race between Mustain and Stafford, and both spent last Saturday making major statements as to why they deserve the honor. Still way too close to call.
--Why the hell are people just granting Notre Dame a free pass into the BCS because Michigan St. did their Michigan St. thing? They’ve got UCLA still, and UCLA is just the Spartans in cooler uniforms and a guy who blames his players rather than assistants. They’ve got Navy on the road, whose offense might as well have been designed to do nothing but defeat 2006 Notre Dame. Ditto Air Force. The other games are walks, but, uh, wasn’t Notre Dame supposed to breeze by Michigan, too?

An open letter to Auburn fans dealing with the shock of poll-voting dimwits who apparently can’t see the difference between 45-3 and 20-3 coming Thursday morning.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday headlines

Quickly breaking down the Sunday college football headlines from the great state of Alabama …

Auburn has to break sweat to defeat Buffalo; sky somehow remains in place

Why did I wake up this morning approximately 100 times more concerned with whether the half-gallon of milk in the fridge had gone Bobby Bowden than the fact that Buffalo hung with the Tigers for three quarters? Let me count the ways:

1. Auburn was coming off of the most intense, physical game they’ve played since the same match-up in 2004. Unless you’re drawing on the frustration of a loss, or you’re getting experimental Crazy SuperJuice injections, there’s no way to summon up the kind of energy and emotion necessary to dominate a DI team only a week later.
2. Auburn’s got a road game against a team coached by Steve Spurrier this Thursday. But sure, Tubby and his staff spent just as much time preparing for a home game against the guys who needed overtime to beat Temple. They did. They respect everybody. Also, the moon is made of creamy Velveeta.
3. No Irons. No Dede. No Wilhite. No second leg for Brandon Cox. That Auburn couldn’t effortlessly replace all those missing parts and win by more than 31 points is a clear warning sign … that they’re not actually the 1986 Chicago Bears.
4. For all of the Bulls’ first downs and Cox’s iffy decisions and the Tigers’ injured players and everyone on the Auburn sidelines and bleachers’ general malaise’ the Tigers still won 38-7. 38 … to 7. Buffalo was never closer than two scores in the second half. The Tigers had to break a sweat, but it wasn’t ever the kind of sweat that had Tubby nervously dabbing at his forehead with a handkerchief, either.
5. It’s not going to hurt Auburn in the polls. The national response was way too concerned with Ohio St., USC, and West Virginia’s various “Hey…that game’s actually still close” travails to notice anything besides “38-7.”
6. I really felt like a big bowl of Golden Grahams.

Remember, this was hardly the first time a terrific Auburn team limped their way past an overmatched opponent, as 1993 Samford (35-7 hangers-about) or 2004 Louisiana-Monroe (31-0 losers to the best SEC team this century) will tell you. I would contend there are more positives than negatives from this game: we saw that Ben Tate will almost certainly be able to take over the 21st-Century Tailback U mantle when it’s time. We saw that J**n V****n’s psyche is at least intact enough to continue his A-Rod-esque success against the Buffalos of the world. We saw a rushing attack that collected 7.2 yards a carry, a solid enough average if Auburn had been playing the Alabama School of Math and Science. I’ll get worried when Auburn tries and fails, rather than not trying and still halfway succeeding.

Following 2005’s V****n-induced glee, karma bites Tide fans squarely in the ass

The story of this game is not Leigh Tiffin. The story of this game is why, while Mike Shula is a nice-enough guy who will be successful and will likely coach a string of winning seasons once the last crumpled chip-wrappers of probation have been swept away, Alabama will never reach capital-G Greatness under their current coach.

Why? It’s the fourth quarter, 1st-and-goal from the 9. Tiffin has already honked one easy kick. One flukish fumble aside, J.P. Wilson has looked like the second coming of St. Brodie. Given that Mustain is a walking train wreck, a touchdown guarantees victory while a field goal leaves the door ever so slightly cracked open. Whose hands—or feet—do you put the game in? Shula chose Tiffin’s.

Now it’s overtime and Tiffin has honked two kicks. His confidence, as anyone who watched V****n’s meltdown last season knows, is surely shot to hell. There is no way Shula can ask Tiffin to try an even longer field goal instead of letting Wilson drive for the game-winning TD … and he does. Twice, a touchdown would have won the game. And twice Shula chose to make no attempt whatsoever to score one despite the fact that his kicker was shakier than your average African government.

True, Wilson might have thrown a pick, or fumbled, or what have you. Shula made the “safe” call. But sometimes the “safe” call is also the “just-plain-wrong” call, and Shula has yet to learn that in his three seasons at the helm. Unless he does, until he has his team play to win rather than hope to win, his program is always going to be second-best in the state.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Saturday thoughts / picks

A few points and picks to make on Saturday morning:


--As has been pointed out elsewhere, Tubby’s not going to Miami when the inevitable sack comes for Larry Coker. Other than South Beach (admittedly a hell of a draw, especially to someone like Tubby we’re guessing, but not a football-related one), what does Miami have to offer Tubby that Auburn doesn’t? Maybe a slightly larger national footprint? Rats the size of Boston terriers in the bowels of the Orange Bowl? The opportunity to recruit directly against Petrino, Bowden, and Meyer? Somehow, I don’t think these enticements will persuade him to give up on a program he’s built with his own two hands into, well, the sort of program he’s always wanted.
--Something I may not have made clear enough in my recap yesterday: LSU is a terrific team with a defense that I imagine still has Borges waking up sweating in the night. Would not be surprised at all to see them go 11-1. If the JCCW had an AP ballot, they’d easily still be in the top 5.
--Interesting tidbit this week from Ivan Maisel, who revealed that Tubby was behind the switch to the Irons-led sledgehammer attack in the second half drive. The talk-radio brigade would probably like to spin this into some big brewing conflict, but it’s pretty obvious Borges doesn’t mind taking strongly-worded suggestions for a week … as long as it’s maybe not all season.
--Speaking of Irons, if Auburn goes on to bigger and better things (i.e. an SEC title. The JCCW isn’t even thinking about … that other thing) Auburn fans will need to come up with a clever and catchy nickname for the touchdown drive against LSU. Too bad “The Drive” has already been taken. “The Iron March”?


--Bob Stoops to his team: “Men, from the start of our time together we’ve talked about responsibility. How you need to deny it at all costs. How we’re each called, as a part of this team, to pass the buck. If you fail, if you come up short, I want you to look in the mirror. Then tilt it in another direction so it’s showing someone else. I don’t want to hear any of this ‘I’m sorry coach, I failed, it’s my fault.’ I want you to come to that sideline, look me square in the eye, and tell me which of your opponents, or the officials, or second cousins or team cooks is the reason you came up short. It’s called responsibility, men, and the Oklahoma Sooners don’t want any part of it.”
--MgoBlog takes an appropriate torch to what is only one example of a multitude of horrid college football “analysis” out there. Ah…cathartic.


I can’t believe I picked a Michigan St. game last week. The Spartans should change their nickname to the Philosophical Rivers—you will never, ever see the same Michigan St. team twice. Which is why I went 2-2 with a push last week and am still mired at 5-5 on the season (3-3 NFL). But maybe THIS is the week things turn around…

Kentucky (+27 ½) over FLORIDA: 27 ½ points, after the way Kentucky took apart the Rebels last week and given the inevitable Florida letdown after last week? I know they’re on the road and I know they’re Kentucky, but …

OLE MISS (-2 ½) over Wake Forest: Seems like the Rebels are due for another halfway-acceptable performance, and Wake is banged up beyond all recognition.

West Virginia (-21 ½) over EAST CAROLINA: Uh, is East Carolina any better than Maryland?

Rice (+31 ½) over FLORIDA ST.: Are the Seminoles really going to score 32 points on anyone outside I-AA?

BOISE ST (-14 ½) over Hawaii: Hawaii hard-core sucks playing at Boise, as I recall.

One extra for last week’s push…

LSU (-37) over Tulane: 45-3 one more time sounds about right.

NFL: Seahawks (-3 ½) over Giants, Panthers (-3) over Bucs, Texans (+4) over Redskins

Friday, September 22, 2006

Belated Auburn-LSU recap

OK, recaps get done on Sundays from now on, since The Man made it clear this week they’re not getting done in the middle of the week.

Now, if you will, travel back in time with me to a magical era, when J**n V****n still had a name, college football officials were living lives of quiet dignity throughout the land, and William Walker was still waiting for a playmate in the University-Presidents-Who-Love-Their-Football-Just-a-Little-Too-Much sandbox. A magical time called … last Saturday. Live on digital tape, here’s the JCCW’s recap of Auburn-LSU 2006, maybe not the biggest rivalry in the country, but after three straight years of mind-bogglingly good games, it might already be the best.

(One quick aside: if you’re new to the JCCW and like what you see here, do check the Wazzu and Cap One Bowl recaps. Thanks.)


TIM BRANDO: Only minutes to kickoff on the Plains of Auburn! Spencer, who do you see winning this matchup?
SPENCER TILLMAN: [Spews several sentences of complete and utter gibberish in which the phrase “push-push” is the only halfway intelligible offering. I’m not making this up.]
TIM BRANDO: O…kay. And why did you pick … the team you picked, Spencer? SPENCER TILLMAN: [ Relates incomprehensible statistic along lines of “The teams are a combined 24-0 in their last 24 wins.”]
TIM BRANDO: Well, you’re certainly right there, Spencer! Probably. Perhaps. We’d better send it out to Auburn. Craig and Steve, take it away!

CRAIG BOLERJACK: Thanks, Tim! Welcome to Jordan-Hare Stadium, where more than 87,000 screaming fans are on hand to watch their No. 3 Auburn Tigers take on the sixth-ranked Tigers of Louisiana St. With me is Steve Beuerlein. Steve, both these teams have talked about being disrespected. Which one has the legitimate gripe?
STEVE BEUERLEIN: Well, Craig, consider that this is the only match-up of top 10 teams this week and that this game will almost certainly decide the SEC West. Now, not only has College Gameday turned their noses up at it, but CBS has decided to give Florida-Tennessee the coveted primetime spot and send their No. 1 broadcasting team to Knoxville! Judging by the fact that this game will be called by you and me, Craig, I’d say both these teams have been disrespected!.
CRAIG: Right you are, Steve! I may be competent, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a walking slap-in-the-face to both these programs!

--Auburn, as usual, click-clacks out of the tunnel surrounded by the mystical Fog of Intimidation. Undeniably cool-looking, but, uh … is this chemical fog? Because having been a theater minor many years ago, I can tell you that chemical fog has this nasty tendency to attach itself to the inside of your lungs and can make breathing, um, a bit of a chore. Inhaling chemical fog is just not optimal before undertaking three hours of blisteringly intense physical exertion, is what I’m saying. But I’m sure Tubby would never risk something like that just to make his program look all cool n’ stuff. Never.
--Steve says the defenses will “flat-out kill you,” as opposed to halfheartedly killing you over their morning sausage-and-eggs.

First quarter

--Auburn’s first six play calls: Pass, pass, pass, pass, run, pass. No first downs. Uh, Al? That No. 23 we’ve got? Goes by “Kenny,” last name Irons? He’s not bad. Really. Give him a try sometime.
--On the plus side, LSU’s run on third-and-3 on their first possession goes nowhere. And what Kody Bliss does to the football on his first two punts—the second a 61-yarder--is considered a crime in most states. If this game was a ‘70s art film, this is what we would call “foreshadowing.”
--1st-and-10, Dwayne Bowe drops a sure first-down pass Jamarcus “the Behemoth” Russell places right in his hands. Then someone helpfully reminds him he had LASIK surgery recently and he's supposed to be much better now that he has 20/20 eyesight. Bowe, his confidence restored and not wanting to let a good human-interest story down, corrals the next one to keep the LSU drive alive.
--On fourth-and-1 from the Auburn 32, the Behemoth finds Jacob Hester with a short pass. Hester makes the over-the-shoulder catch, takes a good two steps, fires off a series of jumping jacks, and is in the process of re-enacting the zombie dance from the “Thriller” video when Karibi Dede tackles him from behind and dislodges the ball. A terrific play by Dede, but Bolerjack and Beuerlein are understandably stunned when the replay official rules the play an incomplete pass.

BEUERLEIN: Wow. I’m surprised. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that makes someone else involved in this game who needs LASIK surgery. And quick.
BOLERJACK: You said it. If our replay official still has his driver’s license, we’d better suspend it until he takes that eye-test again. That call was more obvious than the giant E on top of the eyechart.

(I’m paraphrasing.)

The other interesting thing about this play? “Jacob Hester,” surely the most Amish name in football. At least until LSU’s next big recruit, Shadrach Zachariah, arrives on campus.
--This whole “forward pass” concept isn’t working out for Auburn today. Second down, Glenn Dorsey roars into the backfield when Joe Cope tries to block what we can only guess is his imaginary friend Twinkles. Sack. On third down, Cox throws a pinpoint pass to the pinpoint two feet behind his intended receiver. Picked. Sigh.
--The consolation is that LSU’s offense is just as incompetent/our defense just as brilliant as ours/theirs. Run for loss of four (thanks to Will Herring, who looks twice as comfortable in his third game at linebacker as he did in his 30th at safety), near-sack and incomplete, near-sack and incomplete. Then LSU negates a punt downed inside the 10 with an illegal formation call and the second punt goes into the end zone. Sid Bream could have been involved and that possession still couldn’t have been any uglier.
--Irons dropped for a loss of two. Right now, both defensive lines are chewing up the offensive lines and spitting them out. If it wasn’t offensively disrespectful, this is where I’d make the crack about yardage in this game being harder to come by than it was at Verdun. (Know your history, kids.)

Second quarter

--Second verse, same as the first. Cox is sacked on third down by Dorsey; Bliss saves the Tigers’ collective ass by sending another punt into low-earth orbit for a net of 61 yards. If Auburn wins this game, I doubt Bliss is going to have pay for another beer in his life.
--CBS predictably hauls out the Earthquake Game clips, which is even more painful for Auburn fans than most realize. If there are any non-Auburn fans reading, know this: that godforsaken play in that godforsaken hellhole was the only thing that kept the eventual 10-1 SEC champs from hosting Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. Look it up. Take your time. I’ll be over here sobbing and breaking things.
--We’re at the 12:03 mark of the second quarter, and CBS already has enough footage for a “Look at how many times Brandon Cox has been sacked!” montage. Please, o-line, stop the madness. I really don’t want the fine state of Alabama to be inundated with crimson “Honk if you sacked Brandon!” bumper stickers.
--Holy crap, a drive. Cox hits Dunn on third-and-10 for a first down and suddenly there are holes. Irons for 11. Stewart for seven. Irons for five. Cox hits Rodriguez and whaddya know, it’s first-and-goal from the 10.
--Cox takes a hit on second down. He’s down, grabbing his leg, and in obvious pain. Well, it was a good season we had. Man, remember when we beat the crap out of Washington St.? That was awesome. Good times, good times. It seems like only yesterday … Oh thank everything holy Cox is up and running to the sideline. He looks OK. Whew. OK, heart, up and at ‘em.
--Whaddya know, it’s fourth-and-goal from the 10. Fortunately, we have Vaughnbot 3000, who is incapable of felling pressure, has no electronic memory of the 2005 debacle, and has programmed by Dr. Alfred Borg (our offensive coordinator) to …
--Oh. Oh goodness. He doinked it off the upright. From 26 yards out. 26. The placement on the left hash isn’t great for righty kickers, but 26 yards out. Against LSU. After a 16-play, eight-minute drive. THAT DOES IT. As of now, J**n V****n, you are nameless at the JCCW, and you shall remain so until you hit a kick longer than 30 yards in a game in genuine doubt (i.e. a game not against the MSUs or Buffalos of the world.) No backtalk—you get your name back when you’ve earned it.
--Naturally, LSU seizes on the momentum shift and drives into AU territory. Weird how missed 26-yard field goals can even turn luck around—the Behemoth fumbles on the run, and the ball bounces right into Bowe’s hands.
--Apparently, Quentin Groves is related to X-Man superhero Nightcrawler. Just as the Behemoth scrambles right and looks to have tons of running room, Groves teleports from his defensive end position on the opposite side of the field to a spot just behind the Behemoth to make the tackle. Sweet.
--LSU hits a 42-yard field goal and go in at the half up 3-0. I swear. F*ck*ng V****n.


--There’s an ad for Chick-Fil-A. You wouldn’t think so, but the sight of those beautiful cows parachuting into a football stadium has me on the verge of tears. Check back with me in December, but as of now the single worst thing about Michigan is the food. There is no sweet tea. There are no good ribs. And there is no Chick-Fil-A, no precious, precious Chick-Fil-A. It’s a cruel world.
--Beuerlein promises more “fireworks” in the second half. Judging by the way these defenses are playing, he’s right … if by “fireworks” he means those little gunpowder snaps you threw at people’s feet as a kid. But I doubt either offense is going to even get up to “sparkler” level in this game.

Third quarter

--LSU’s offense has developed a kind of pattern. Drive over midfield with relative ease … fail miserably in attempts to drive any further. Witness their first possession of the third quarter: from the 20, they make the AU 47 in five quick plays. Then Hezekiah Abednego Jacob Hester gets dropped for a loss of two. Then an incompletion. Then a punt into the end zone, because punter solidarity requires Chris Jackson to make Kody Bliss look even better than he already does. Nice.
--If you’re an LSU fan: Uh-oh. Cox just threw his best pass of the day, a precision 16-yard out to Smith. Then Irons for 5 on a play he should have been stopped for no gain on. Then Irons for 9. Look out.
--KENNY IRONS! He drags the entire LSU defense with him on the manliest 12-yard gain you will ever see, down to the LSU 21. How bad-ass is Kenny Irons? Let’s see, how do I put this delicately … he has cojones the size of grapefruits, does that work?
--Cox with another beauty, this time to Stewart to the 2. But is this going to be an epic goal-line stand? Irons gets stuffed twice.
--NO! TOUCHDOWN! Cox burrows his way in on third down as Beuerlein correctly surmises the D was looking was for another handoff. Given that Glenn Dorsey was down there and that he has shown himself to be an unstoppable swamp-beast of a man, the interior of the o-line just made their best play of the game.
--At least V****n doesn’t need a second try this time. 7-3.
--Matt Clark kicks the ball into the very furthest reaches of the end zone, as always. Auburn’s kickoff coverage unit might as well take the field in shorts and sandals, sipping a daiquiri, for all the work they do.
--Early Doucet throws away the Behemoth’s good work on a third-down scramble by dropping a sure first-down, sending Will Muschamp into an Uncontrollable Seizure of Excitement on the sideline. Our defensive coordinator is apparently a madman, but as long as they keep playing the kind of D that holds LSU to 3 points through three quarters, I’m down with madmen.
--Glenn Dorsey explodes through the middle of the line to pound Irons down for a four-yard loss. Attention offensive linemen: that guy’s really, really good. At least pretend to try to block him. Thanks.
--Bleah. Cox takes AU to the LSU 39, then false start, incomplete, incomplete, incomplete. But Bliss downs LSU at their own 8. OK, now he’s just showing off.

Fourth quarter

--Guess what LSU did? They drove to midfield, then punted into the end zone. Never could have seen it coming. By the way, the punting battle couldn’t be more lopsided if Jackson was kicking in clown shoes.
--Would you like to know why Tubby, for all his faults, is one hell of a football coach? Because he does things like go for it on fourth-and-1 on his own 40 in a 7-3 life-or-death SEC game. You think his players don't love that kind of ballsiness? Of course Auburn makes the first, after which Tubby declines to do the Sam Cassell "Look How Much Testosterone I Can Produce" Dance, which is a shame.
--After Taylor gets busted pushing off an LSU corner and—you guessed it--Dorsey tackles Irons for a big loss, AU catches a massive break on third-and-Infinitum. The same corner (Daniel Francis) runs Taylor over with Cox’s floater up for grabs. Pass interference. Under no circumstances should the question of whether Taylor could have gotten back to the intercepted pass if he hadn’t been run over be considered. Nothing to see here. Let’s move on.
--Third-and-one, and Cox pulls off the prettiest play-fake you will ever see. Any defense with anything less than perfect discipline is going to give up either a huge bomb or at least a first-down pass underneath. Instead, both receivers are blanketed by the LSU defense. Incomplete. Unbelievable--anyone who watches this game and attributes the score to bad offense or conservative play-calling (on this drive alone, Auburn ran an end-around, two bombs to Taylor, and play-action on third-and-a-yard) is more wrong than a stockbroker pushing Enron.
--Auburn punts, and LSU of course takes four plays to reach the Auburn 33. Then, of course, their next three plays are three-yard gain, loss of two, sack by Marquies Gunn. Auburn’s not playing bend-but-don’t-break defense; they’re playing bend-then-break them defense. (Man, am I witty. You’re not going to find solid-gold comedy like this anywhere else, folks.)
--It’s fourth-and-8 … the Behemoth throws downfield … YES! It’s batted away! … NO! There’s a flag! NO! It’s interference and a first down! … YES! They’ve waved it off! It’s Auburn’s ball! Holy crap! Have you ever seen a play worth this many exclamation points?!?

For the record: This is a 50/50 call. No, the pass was not catchable. Doucet was coming too hard across the middle to re-adjust and get to the ball before Brock even if Gilbert had never laid a finger on him. That said, Gilbert obviously did a lot more than lay a finger on him. You could easily label this a defensive hold. And the SEC is opening up a gigantic can of worms by demanding that refs not only judge whether there is illegal contact on passes deflected downfield, but judge whether receivers could get to deflected balls before the deflector. Bottom line is that if this had happened to Auburn, I’d be flagrantly pissed.

That said, you also wouldn’t be reading me here whining about it. It’s a 50/50 call. It’s true that Auburn got the breaks on all the 50/50 calls: that one, David Irons’s potential interference in the end zone in the second quarter, the 3rd-and-29 call on Francis, the overruled first down in the first quarter (which was more like a 97/3 call). But home teams get those calls. Always have, always will. And the fact remains that not one of these calls robbed LSU of points or would have guaranteed them points in any way. Every single one of those calls could have gone in LSU’s favor and the score might not have changed at all. I suggest any LSU fans still worked up over an interference non-call go have a friendly chat with some ‘Bama fans.

--It’s time to milk some clock. Oh my goodness, they just called the reverse flea-flicker halfback pass to the backup left tackle! Just kidding. They ran Irons into the line three times. Oh my goodness! Glenn Dorsey didn’t make any tackles on that series! Just kidding. He made two. I would make the old “On a scale of 1 to 10, how relieved am I that Auburn doesn’t have to face Glenn Dorsey again? 473,” joke, but honestly, relief this intense can’t be measured.
--Punt. 1:11 left. I would wager an enormous sum of money that LSU drives into Auburn territory and runs out of time. Still, who knows. C’mon, Auburn!
--LSU runs the exact same deep out play three times. It fails the first time and works the next two times. Guys that's backwards--you're supposed to be fooled the first time, then stop it the others. C’mon Auburn.
--The Behemoth is dragged down by Dede! Clock’s running…complete pass downfield to Bowe, but if he’s tackled, it’s game over… AAARRGGGGHHH Savage goes for the kill shot, Bowe slips away and gets out of bounds. Of course—this kind of game cannot not come down to the very final tick of the clock.
--As if to prove my point, the Behemoth foolishly throws underneath to avoid a sack, theoretically ending the game. But there’s a procedure penalty on LSU. Gack. One more play. C’MON AUBURN!

Good sweet Lord, what a game. What mind-blowing defense. Seriously, Irons had 70 yards, Cox was iffy, we scored seven points … aside from amazing defense in our own territory, how in God’s green earth did Auburn win? LSU fans, we’re even. We’ve had our year to gripe under our breath about our kicker costing us a game where we drastically outgained you. Now you get a year to gripe under your breath about the refs costing you after a similar performance. Here’s to hoping the next 10 games in this series are as good as the last three have been … and that we win ‘em all, of course.

Thanks for reading. War Damn Eagle!

Monday, September 18, 2006

quickie thoughts

Busy Sunday means the LSU recap will have to wait until late tonight. Until then, some appetizer thoughts on Separation “Pinnacle of Human Evolution” Saturday:


--I’ve seen a lot of manly games in my time, but that might just have been the manliest of them all. My voice dropped an octave by the end of the first quarter. By the end of the game, I’d eaten my weight in turkey legs, arranged to wrestle a bear later this week, and taken a solemn oath to never ask for directions again so long as I live. Ladies, if you’re an Auburn fan and you suddenly sprouted several chest hairs over the weekend, don't worry, it's just an unavolidable side effect from watching this particular game. *Insert obligatory, all-too-easy joke about female LSU and/or Tide fans having always had chest hair here.*

--Yes, LSU got the royal shaft on a call or two. Yes, Auburn was fortunate. No, LSU fans do not have the opportunity to whine and moan about it. (Not that the ones whose thoughts you can read are, mind you.) Not one of those calls would have given LSU a score—there was no overruling a did-he-drop-it-or-not touchdown catch on review, no failure to flag a facemask that prevented an LSU ballcarrier from crossing the goal line. The way Auburn’s D was playing, LSU could have gotten every single call that went against them Saturday and still never set foot in the end zone.

--Not that I’m the first person to say it, but Kenny Irons’s 70 yards in that game are the equivalent of 150 in any other game. No other back in the country save maybe Adrian Beastlyson gets that many, and you will never convince me otherwise.

--I would say “Cox needed to have a better game,” but it’s hard to blame a QB for looking spotty when he can’t make one three-stop drop without having approximately two tons of defensive linemen in his face, and meanwhile his receivers are taking on the hand-down best secondary in the country. Cox also did not throw the ball to the 5-yard line on the last play of the game down by four, which bears mentioning.

--I’ll have more to say about J**n V****n in the recap, but suffice it to say if he hasn’t already founded and become President of the “2006 Auburn Tiger Defense #1 Fan Club!,” he’d better get on that.

--Any Auburn fan who takes the media bait and so much as thinks the words “national championship” already needs to have some sense beaten into them with a sack of doorknobs. A hot Chris Leak could beat us by his lonesome. Georgia has perhaps the country’s best defense that wasn’t playing at Jordan-Hare last Saturday (and if you’ve forgotten how well teams do on the road in that series, get a better memory). Bama, of course, would like to beat us so badly they’ve already got their appointment with Mephistopheles set up and everything. (*Insert obligatory, all-too-easy joke about the Devil already living in Tuscaloosa i.e. hell, here.*) And then, whoopee, Auburn would still have the joy of a likely Gator/Dawg rematch in the SEC title game. Not to go completely Captain Bringdown (tm Dan Loney) on you, but it’s awfully hard seeing a Tubby-coached team take every single one of those games as seriously as they should. Even if this team is as good as the 2004 team, the road back to 12-0 is so much rougher I can’t get too excited about it … yet.

--That said? We have the best defense in the country. We just won a game against the second-best defense in the country. We have what might be the best set of coordinators in the country and arguably the country’s most manly man running the ball for us. We could be, if but for the whims of fate, Ole Miss fans. Times are good. They’re very, very good.


--Oklahoma 24, UAB 17 vs. Georgia in Matt Stafford’s first start 31, UAB 0 tells you everything you need to know about the SEC this season.

--Still hard to believe certain Gator fans were upset with Urban Meyer after a season in which he had to clean out the cobwebs left by the previous regime and still managed to go 3-0 against the Vols, Dawgs, and Seminoles. And now he’s 4-0 against that trio, has apparently found a running game, and judging by the huge contributions he’s getting from true freshmen he’s apparently as good a recruiter as his reputation suggests. I was distinctly unhappy when Meyer chose the Gators over Notre Dame, and I’m even distinctly-er unhappy now.

--I’m not a Photoshopper, but if I was, now would be the time for me to take the movie poster from “As Good As it Gets” and plug in David Cutcliffe in his Ole Miss gear over Jack Nicholson. Just couldn’t be happy with what you had, could you Rebel administration? And now you’re getting routed by a team coached by a 137-year-old man.

--Who are you, and what have you done with Steve Spurrier?

--If you’re a Vandy kid with a gambling itch, what’s your emotional state right now? Your ‘Dores are a winless 0-3 in the record books, but a perfect 3-0 against the spread. Are you happy or unhappy? Stoked or crushed? How much of your new income are you burning to drown your sorrows?


--Wanna hear a dirty joke? The Big 12 fell in the mud. Wanna hear a clean joke? The ACC took a bath. HAHAHAHAHA!

(These conferences are so lacking in quality it’s laughable, is what I’m saying.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

LSU-Auburn karmic preview

At first, this preview was going to be an old-school position-by-position breakdown … you know, Cox vs. Russell, Irons vs. Landry, Borges vs. Fisher, our yellow-coated security folks vs. the state troopers escorting Miles to midfield after the horn, that sort of thing.

But you can get that anywhere. And more importantly, we all know that that if there’s any edge in the talent level between these two teams, it’s not “razor-thin” so much as “a razor cut in half longway, so that now you have TWO razors”-thin. So who wins Saturday’s megatitanic battle is going to come down to more than talent and strategy. It’s going to come down to the infinitesimal whims of the college football gods, and which team has curried enough favor to earn their munificence.

If you need convincing, look at the last two games in this series: In 2004, Nick Saban was coming off a national championship. Naturally, those cuddly fans on the Bayou decided to show their bounteous gratitude towards their coach by booing him three quarters into the season’s first game because his team had the temerity to beat a solid Pac-10 opponent by less than 50 points. Result? Two weeks later LSU’s extra point goes wide and Auburn gets two tries at theirs. But let’s not forget that in the not-too-distant past Tubby’s Tigers lit up victory cigars on LSU’s field … fun, yes, but not the sort of thing football gods smile upon, surely. Result? Two trips to Baton Rouge later, John Vaughn is so cursed he has to be replaced by an android replicant.

So who’s got the divine edge this go-round? Let’s break that down:

Coach’s karma

At a glance, this should be all Tubby. Unlike his counterpart across the state, Tubby has served his wayward linebackers a punishment that will, in fact, punish them. What’s most remarkable about this is that Tubby could have suspended Dede and Blackmon for AU's first two games—both all-but-certain wins—then gotten them back for LSU, and no one would have batted an eye. DUI’s are awful, awful, but in today’s top-flight college football climate, they’re not exactly enough to get you into Marcus Vick territory, either. Is it possible that Tubby actually thinks that teaching Dede and Blackmon a lesson about the perils of drunk driving is more important than winning the LSU game? Inconceivable! Yet that’s what the situation looks like from here, doesn’t it?

Despite the massive karma boost Tubby should gets from that decision, you can’t just dismiss Miles. His team got hit by a hurricane last season. His team’s fans will boo him at the drop a hat. (Which may explain why he never takes his off.) He has handled what could have been an explosive situation at quarterback with the kind of grace and care Phillip Fulmer isn’t even up to dreaming of. And don’t forget that the football gods aren’t fond of hubris.

Still, an LSU win would mean that Tubby really should have kept Blackmon and Dede around, and what kind of "Moral of the Story" is that?


The football gods do not approve of the color purple. There’s a reason the Minnesota Vikings lost all four Super Bowls they played in, that Northwestern spent decades as the Big Ten’s doormat, that the Big 12 took Baylor instead of TCU, consigning the Horned Frogs to wander the WAC/C-USA/Mountain West wilderness. The Cajun Kitties will be in white, so the football gods’ displeasure will be lessened, but they should still side with the team in navy blue and burnt orange.


Given that the football gods will favor teams that have been unjustly overlooked by rivals and the media (remember when Ohio State won a national championship on this fact alone?), it’s not surprising that both teams have played the “disrespect” card in the run-up to Saturday’s game.

Who’s got the better case? To some extent, I agree with Auburn’s gripe that maybe they should have gotten more national play. I’ve pointed out already that Irons’s week 1 efforts weren’t appropriately appreciated. USC’s win over Arkansas wasn’t that much more impressive than Auburn’s over Wazzu, though it was certainly treated that way. And not that Dome worship is anything new, but the gulf between the coverage of the country’s No. 2 and No. 3 teams was shockingly wide over the first two weeks of the season.

But let’s be honest: I’m not sure why, other than questions about how the two coaching staffs stack up, that Auburn was such an overwhelming pre-season favorite in the West. With guys like Russell, Landry, Bowe, and that stable of backs all returning ... well, there’s of course a great argument that Auburn deserves to be the higher-ranked of the two teams. But especially given that LSU spent bowl season beating Miami within an inch of Larry Coker’s coaching life while Auburn was too busy posing with Mickey and Donald to worry about Wisconsin, it’s shocking that more people haven’t put forth or bought into the counterargument. If you’re an Auburn fan who doesn’t think this is a problem, trendy upset pick Arizona would like to speak with you.


Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but these sure seem to favor Auburn. LSU’s compassionate response to Katrina certainly deserves consideration, but there’s also the fact that LSU fans still gloat about their 2003 team over AU’s 2004 team when there’s precious little doubt from any unbiased observer that the 2004 Tigers were better (it’s hard to argue with “undefeated” vs. “lost at home to Ron Zook”). There’s the fact that Auburn’s students (mostly) wear ties and jackets while LSU’s are dressing up like purple Batmen. Most substantially, there’s the pregame mascot rituals. Auburn lets its mascot stretch its wings and fly majestically across the stadium’s sky, rewarding it with a tasty meat treat for being the beloved and powerful tradition it is. LSU hauls its mascot onto the field in a tiny cage so it can be taunted and teased until it can’t help but roar out of sheer irritation and anger, at which point the LSU fans cheer wildly. Delightful tradition they’ve got down there, huh? “Make Mike the Tiger stand right up and roar” was probably added to the LSU fight song only when they realized “Capture Willy and make him do tricks” was better used on a t-shirt.
EDGE: Auburn

The Vaughn Effect

After last season, don’t the unbreakable laws of narrative that bound our universe together virtually demand that “John Vaughn” attempt a potential game-winning field goal against LSU? The Georgia game was nice, but for Vaughn (or, rather, his cybernetic doppelganager) to find true redemption—or final damnation—he has to defeat—or lose to—LSU. One way or the other, we’re going to get an ending to this little tale. But will the football gods choose the storybook Horatio Alger-type ending that gives life and hope to all who are touched by it, or the Thomas Hardy-style ending grounded in realism and the cruelty of life that reminds us that no matter how we struggle and fight, we will all be failures in the end?

After the Michael Bush injury, I can’t see the football gods being this heartless twice in a season.
EDGE: Auburn.

So thanks to the Tigers’ karmic superiority (with a little bit of help from homefield advantage, Tubby, Borges, and Muschamp outcoaching Miles, Pelini, and Fisher, and a beastly performance from the Ironses), Auburn wins. 16-14, as VaughnBot 3000 connects from 39 yards out with :26 to play. Later in the day, ESPN green-lights production on “Deliverance: the John Vaughn Story” starring Jim from The Office .

Enjoy your Showdown “Pinnacle of Human Evolution” Saturday, everyone.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Calm (look back) before the storm

Before this loaded Saturday (or as I like to think of it, The Pinnacle of Human Evolution), let's quickly look at last Saturday:


Living in Michigan and needing to buy groceries instead of ESPN Gameplan means no game recap this week. But there’s plenty to be gleaned from the box score of Auburn’s latest demolition of the Condemned House that Sherrill Built:

--Yes, we can see now that, as predicted by so many national media-types in the pre-season, the departure of living legends Ben Obamanu and Cooper Wallace has left Auburn’s receiving corps truly decimated. Saturday, Brandon Cox was only able to complete passes to 10 different receivers. And where is the go-to player? Courtney Taylor’s 9 receptions for 103 yards only show how far he has to go to fill the shoes of the great Anthony Mix.

(My point? If you expected this to be a problem for Auburn this season, you weren’t being very bright.)

--Remember back when scouting reports on Auburn read something like “Well, the offense is unstoppable and the defense eats nail for breakfast, but the kicking game is a soul-sucking black hole from which not one atom of hope can escape”? After Vaughnbot 3000’s 55-yarder, Kody Bliss’s four punts for an average of 47.5 yards a kick, and Matt Clark’s six touchbacks in seven tries, I feel like those days are behind us for good. Provided, of course, we don’t face any opponents against whom one of our kickers might have some sort of jagged psychological trauma from last season to deal with. Now, who does Auburn play this week, again?

--So that Irons4Heisman business didn’t last long, I guess. Still, I think Auburn has much worse problems than a semi-injured guy gutting out 21 carries against a superbly talented D keyed to stop him. And he still got 69 yards—it’s not like we’re talking Ken Darby vs. Hawaii numbers here.

--Croom may just want to install the option at this point. That Tray Rutland attempted 25 passes and earned just 82 passing yards is bad enough, but when you factor in Auburn’s four sacks, it works out to 29 called pass plays for an average net gain of 1.8 yards … and, oh yeah, all three turnovers. Ye gods.

--Anyone who think Auburn would be better off having Cox out hurt than Irons is a complete idiot (or, possibly, a usually sharp national columnist who isn’t reading his own commentary), but at least Blake Field’s 4-for-4 day means a Cox injury might not be the de facto end of AU’s season. Might not, I said.

--The showdown with the Cajun Kittens is still two days away, and you can already hear the melodious hair-raising sounds of LSU fans booing their coach and making excuses! The JCCW will preview the biggest game of the season tomorrow, cross my heart.


--That “South Carolina will compete for the SEC East” bandwagon sure got empty in a hurry, didn’t it?
--Let me sum up the thinking Auburn fan’s reaction to the news that a) LSU’s whooping of their Pac-10 cannon fodder was essentially no different from Auburn’s whooping of their Pac-10 cannon fodder b) Alabama has a kicker named Tiffin hitting game-winning kicks from distance: Sh*t … on …toast.
--That said, you have to also say 2006 looks more and more like a three-game season (all three of them at home) for Auburn at this point.
--And the SEC’s non-conference momentum train has stopped … now.
--The battle for “Most Completely Overhyped SEC Freshman Quarterback” is now well underway. After those three picks, Stafford has the early edge, but you’ve got to give credit to Mustain for only beating Utah St. 20-0.
--So apparently, the kicker for Kentucky's opponent in their win Saturday didn't actually look like this:

And there I was desperately trying to get the game on PPV like a sucker.


--Think there’s any truth to the rumor that Mack Brown offered McConaghey to the Redskins straight up for Cruise and a Breakfast Club cast member to be named later?
--All right, can we all please stop whining about the new clock rules now, everyone? Yes, they went too far, yes, they make it tough to come back, yes, the committee should do something different next year. We’re all in agreement. But it’s not changing this year. And it’s not like they decided teams only get three downs to make a first or that field goals now have to be headed through the uprights soccer-style. The game these teams are playing is still football. Any team that loses has not lost because of the clock rules—they lost because their opponent played the game of football better than they did in the allotted time.
-- Got to say that EDSBS has hit the Chad Henne nail on the head.


Want to get these out of the way so I can focus on actual previewing later. Also, seems that other bloggers are picking … well, maybe not bushels of games, but more than three. So we’ll pick five college games. Coming off of a 2-1 college, 4-2 overall week (5-4 on season), why not.

LOUISVILLE (-4) over Miami: Coker’s record as an underdog scares me. But there’s no way, playing at home, Petrino and Brohm let an opportunity like this one get away.

TCU (+2) over Texas Tech: If Tech can’t beat UTEP in regulation, how’s it going to fare at a TCU team that’s sprung this kind of upset before on the road?

Nebraska (+18) over USC: I must be crazy. But I watched the Huskers crush a decent La. Tech team and thought they looked better than I’ve seen in years and years—and 18 is an awful lot of points.

PITT (-3) over Michigan St.: While Pitt was blasting Virginia at home and soundly defeating a decent Cincy team on the road, the Spartans were struggling to beat Idaho (56-10 losers to Wazzu a week later) and MAC cellar-dweller Eastern Michigan at home.

N.C. State (+3) over Southern Miss.: See, here’s the thing: Southern Miss isn’t nearly as good as they used to be. And the Wolf Pack are going to be mad, mad, mad. This game looks like such an easy call (mid-major + vulnerable BCS team = “upset”) I think it’s going the other way.

NFL: Ravens (-13) over Raiders, Broncos (-11) over Chiefs, Packers (+3) over Saints.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Week 1 thoughts / Week 2 picks

Why are most of my college football posts coming out just before gametime on Saturdays? Because that’s how The Man wants it! Please redirect all calls and complaints to The Man. Thanks.

My thoughts on Week 1 of the college season and my picks for this week:


--This is Tubby on the successful fake punt following the Wazzu win: “The Mississippi gambler is back … it went perfect … that won’t be the last one.” All right, Tubby, how many things are wrong with this little interview? 1) Please, don’t refer to yourself with a nickname someone else has given you. It’s just not dignified. 2) From the sound of it, you really do need to make sure you give your arm a good stretching before you pat yourself on the back with that kind of intensity. I swear, you could pull something. 3) If you really are planning on running more fake punts this season, wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to say “No, I’m not planning on running those any more, too risky, thanks for asking” than saying “Why sure we’re going to try to trick people some more. It’s only matter of time, bro!” You know that the whole goal of the fake is to catch them by surprise, right Tubbs? Sheesh. 4) Do remember, Tubby, that as well as the fake punt worked, it didn’t turn the momentum of the game. Your team missed a FG on that possession and the Cougs left the field celebrating like maniacs.

--I’m usually not one to go the hyperactive student route of whining and complaining about national media ignoring Auburn—on the contrary, I prefer it when Auburn earns as little buzz as possible—but what’s with Steve Slaton being shown so much more Heisman love than Kenny Irons? Sure Slaton had a tremendous year last year, but leading the SEC in rushing after playing only 9 games isn’t noteworthy? And as for Week 1, only an idiot would say Slaton’s 215 yards on 34 touches (one reception) vs. Marshall was more impressive than Irons’s 223 total yards on 23 touches vs. Washington St. I suspect if both these guys continue to play like this it’ll work itself out over the course of the season, but it just seems a little strange at the moment.

--Speaking of national media reaction, thanks to Tennessee’s bludgeoning of Cal and Notre Dame’s “shocking” (if by “shocking” one means “completely predictable”) almost-choke at Georgia Tech and Ohio St. looking like world-beaters, no one even seemed to notice the nation’s No. 4/No. 6 team crushed a solid Pac-10 team. Hooray! Maybe we’ll have a chance at LSU yet.


--There are two ways to look at the Tennessee victory: a) They broke a couple of big plays, picked on that one corner who was so in over his head he’d already drowned, and basically looked better than they are b) DAMN. Me? I’m in the latter camp. Tennessee had the talent to play like that last year; it just fell apart thanks to the QB controversy, poor coaching, and eventually lack of confidence. Well there’s no more Rick Clausen now, Cutcliffe isn’t a savior but he’s an improvement at OC no question, and I think the lack of confidence issue is no longer an issue. Until I see Florida put some kind of running game together—honestly, what has Meyer done to DeShawn Wynn?--the Vols are the SEC East favorites.

--Hawaii gave ‘Bama a taste of what Kenneth Darby is going to face all season long: approximately 14 guys in the box and all the space to throw in John Parker Wilson could want. Their season is going to hinge on how well Wilson can take advantage of that space. Simple as that.

--Vandy is back to their bad ol’ Woody Widenhofer days: solid D anchored by an outstanding, NFL-quality linebacker—this year’s model is Jonathan Goff, who made, oh, 46 tackles against Michigan—and no prayer on offense.

--Georgia and LSU: yawn.

--Thanks to the poetically-named BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ole Miss looked much better on offense against Memphis than they did at any point last season. Unfortunately for the Rebels, they looked downright mediocre on defense. Still not sure how much different Oreron’s record is going ot be in Year Two than Year One.


--It’s been said, but it bears repeating: More than anything else, Miami and Florida St. struggle against each other to open the season because they are poorly, poorly coached teams. The ‘Canes were an absolute train wreck and the ‘Noles were barely better. Why do I get the feeling that each team’s defensive coordinators—good ol’ Mickey Andrews and Miami’s Randy Shannon--would make better head coaches than their head coaches?

--Everybody wants to pile on Colorado, Duke, and New Mexico for losing to D-IAA teams, but at least the teams they lost to were successful I-AA teams. Purdue won, but they were only ahead of Indiana St. by five, 33-28, late in the third quarter. Not only is ISU I-AA, they finished 0-11 last season! So how many points are we looking at Ohio St. scoring on the Boilermakers … 70? 80? I say they go for triple-digits.

--Michael Bush or no Michael Bush, Louisville will still win the Big East. Petrino will find a way.

Weekend picks

Ugly, ugly ugly start to the year with my 1-2 performance last week. Neither of my two underdog picks came close to covering. Stick with another favorite this week. (Spreads here.)

Auburn (-21 ½) over Mississippi St. I know I know, a homer pick, but even on the road, I can’t see Auburn’s D allowing more than 7 points to the wretched Bulldog O. Even on the road, I can’t see Auburn’s offense putting up less than 28. 28-7 is the only possible score in which MSU would cover … and I happen to think other scores are a lot more likely.

Texas Tech (-7 ½) over UTEP. How, exactly, is a Mike Price defense supposed to shut down a Mike Leach offense?

Miami (Ohio) (+18) over Purdue. I got burned backing a MAC underdog last week, but obviously Purdue is not Wisconsin.

Just for the hell of it, I’m also going to offer three NFL picks, because I can: Eagles (-6) over Texans, Chargers (-3) over Raiders, Browns (-3) over Saints.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Auburn-Wazzu recap

So as you’ve probably heard by now, the 2006 Auburn football season, i.e. “Death by Hype II: The Only Thing We Have to Fear is ‘Fear the Thumb’,” is now playing at your local movie theater 89,000-seat stadium. In the spirit of the JCCW’s post-mortem of the Capital One Bowl disaster (but with a much, much happier ending), here’s a blow-by-blow recap of the season-opener vs. Washington St., brought to you by the good folks at ESPN2 and my new DVR.


RON FRANKLIN: Welcome to Jordan-Hare Stadium everyone! It’s a perfect night for football and tonight you’re going to see a terrific matchup between the Auburn Tigers of the SEC and the Washington St. Cougars out of the Pac-10. I’m Ron Franklin and with me as always is my colleague Mike Gottfried. Mike, when you look at this Auburn Tiger team …
RANDOM DUDE: Um, I’m not Mike Gottfried.
RON: Oh, my mistake, with me is former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie. Bob, when you look …
RANDOM DUDE: We went over this in rehearsal, Ron. I’m not coach Davie, either. My name’s Ed Cunningham. We met weeks ago…
RON: Wait, you’re who now? Why are you up here?
RANDOM DUDE ED: [sighs loudly] I’m Ed Cunningham. I’m your new broadcast partner. Ed … Cunningham.
RON: Ed, huh? OK, well, folks I guess we’ve got Ed with me. But wait, down on the sidelines, let me please introduce the third member of our crew, Dr. Jerry Punch. How you doin’ Doc? That is you down there, right Doc?
DR. JERRY PUNCH: [in squeaky, high-pitched voice] Actually, Ronnie, thees is Lisa Guerrero, filling in for Doctoor Punch. How are you Ronnie? [Punch tries to stifle snickering ]
RON: Lisa? Lisa Guerrero? I’m … I’m honestly not doing real well at the moment, Lisa.
DR. JERRY PUNCH: [still in squeaky, high-pitched voice] Well, Ronnie, I talked to Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville before the game and he told me that as long as his team double-knotted their shoelaces and if the game was played on grass, his team would have a good chance of …
RON: All right, f*** this, I’m outta here. Lisa f***ing Guerrero, I f***ing swear. [takes microphone off ] See you later, “Ed,” hope you don’t mind flying solo …
DR. JERRY PUNCH: Ron? Ron, hey, it’s me, the Doc! Just fooling around there, buddy! It’s me, Dr. Jerry Punch!
RON: Doc, is that you? Oh thank God, thank God, Doc! …it’s so good to hear your voice … [RON weeps openly] Hey, everyone, it’s Dr. Jerry Punch! Thanks goodness. Whew. OK, so, Mike, as we get ready for the opening kickoff …
ED: I’m not Mike.

First quarter

--Hmm, Washington St. must not have read their “How To Take a Big Intimidating Home Crowd Out of the Game” pamphlet very closely, because I bet “allow sacks on first two passing plays, punt, then let home team’s star running back gallop 50 yards downfield on first play from scrimmage” was under the “Don’t” section rather than the “Do’s.” Call it a hunch.
--The Cougs hold Auburn to a field goal try thanks in part to a good first-down play by defensive end Mkristo Bruce. Ron and Ed seem to think pretty highly of him. Hey coaches, maybe we should run away from him, M’kay? (That was awful. I apologize.) Wazzu also catches a third-down break when AU’s Rod Smith decides he’d rather stop in the middle of the end zone and chill, have a nice chat with the DB, just, you know, catch a quick breather and maybe the ball will land in his hands anyway … our lives are so fast-paced these days, you know?
--John Vaughn mysteriously connects on a 31-yard field goal. 3-0 Tigers.
--On Wazzu’s next possession, Chris Browder makes it three sacks in three dropbacks for the Auburn defensive line. I dunno, too early to start printing the “Honk if You’ve Sacked Alex Brink” bumper stickers, you think?
--The Cougs’ Darrell Hutsona could grab a first down on a 3rd-and-long draw play, but instead inexplicably decides to run sideways just in front of the first-down marker, so AU’s Aairon Savage can haul him down just shy. Inspired by Hutsona’s act of charity and good will, Tiger punt returner Robert Dunn decides that he’ll do Hutsona one better and runs backwards five yards on his return.
--After a third-down scramble, Franklin actually uses the phrase “abundance of speed” in reference to Brandon Cox, and even without prefacing it with “can’t say he’s got an … ” or “if there’s one thing Brandon Cox does not have, it’s an … “ or “Prepare your bomb shelters, folks, the Apocalypse is coming, because we just saw Brandon Cox show what looked like an …” … any of which would have been perfectly understandable, of course.
--The nation gets its first look at the new “Click Clack” Under Armour commercial featuring Tubby. Near the end of the spot, we see Tubby coming out of the tunnel leading the Tigers, and like the rest of the Intense Athletes featured, he says “click clack.” Unlike the rest of the Intense Athletes, however, who say “click clack” with a quiet intensity that works with the slogan’s intent to suggest the sound of an Intense Athlete sneaking up on you in a stadium hallway (to protect his house, presumably), Tubby barks “Click Clack!” like Teddy Roosevelt riding down a Cuban hill screaming “Remember the Maine!” (Know your history, kids.) It is, in fact, the funniest thing I have seen in my entire life. “Click Clack!” … rewind … “Click Clack!” … rewind … pause for breath … “Click Clack!” I swear, only Tubby could make the words “Click Clack!” come across like “Good sweet Lord, do you see how much more bad-ass we are than your pathetic, not-in-a-national-commercial team? I pity you.”
--The mystery deepens as Vaughn kicks a career-long 44-yarder with a good 10 yards to spare. The hell?
--Punch somehow takes 10 minutes and a table with more props than Carrot Top to deliver the stunning news that Auburn will give its players IVs at halftime. He wraps up by saying one of Auburn’s marching-band drummers lost 11 pounds of water weight during a game last year, which just goes to show you that some people need to take their drumming a lot less seriously.
-- Cougars tailback Demaundray Woolridge sprints 42 yards to the Auburn 1, surprising the Auburn D (and probably many in the Auburn crowd), who believed, not unreasonably, that Pac-10 teams played without tailbacks. Wazzu takes a 7-6 lead.

Second quarter

--3rd-and-5 from the Wazzu 35, and Cox shows he’s picking up right where he left off last season … i.e. his Gabe Gross-esque performance in the Cap One Bowl. He throws well behind a wide open Cole Bennett. Fourth down. Again.
--Who are you, and what have you done with John Vaughn? Whoever--or whatever--is inhabiting Vaughn’s uniform just kicked a picture-perfect 52-yard field goal. 52 yards! Somewhere, Satan is putting on a sweater.
--Auburn gets the ball back and Cox hits Smith (who decides it’s in his best interests to finish running his route this time) with a 41-yard bomb to the Wazzu 29. Cunningham smartly points out that Wazzu’s defensive coordinator screwed up, putting his base defense on the field instead of a nickel, leaving a hapless linebacker to cover Smith 30 yards downfield, and congratulating Cox on the pickup. Ron is impressed, as am I. He’s already left Davie in the dust in my book. (The one entitled “What the JCCW Thinks about Various College Football Broadcasters,” that book. No, it hasn’t sold well to this point.)
--It’s third down in Wazzu territory, which of course means it’s going to be fourth down … now . (Via sack this time.) The alleged "John Vaughn" steps up and goes 4-for-4, connecting from 30 yards, and I’ve got a theory about this. It starts in 2004, with “Jason Campbell,” and his sudden transformation from erratic punching bag to Heisman candidate and first-round draft pick upon Al Borges’ arrival. It remains obvious to me that “Al Borges” is more likely a mad German scientist named Dr. Alfred Borg, who has perfected the process of creating perfect robot duplicates of american college football players. Borg probably had--and still has--the real Jason Campbell locked up somewhere deep in the bowels of Jordan-Hare, while the android Campbell went about smashing Auburn’s efficiency ratings records and getting drafted. But at least Campbell now apparently has some company in the dungeons, as I’m fairly certain that the real John Vaughn is down there somewhere, too. Now kicking for Auburn … VaughnBot 3000!
--Poor Alex Brink. Quentin Groves and Marquies Gunn both roar into the pocket on 3rd-and-16, and while Brink is alert enough to step up (causing Groves and Dunn to run into each other rather comically), he’s still so spooked he trips over his lineman’s foot in an attempt to scramble (also quite comical). Between this play, “Click Clack!” and a shockingly good Cunningham-and-Franklin riff on the 99-cent charge to vote for game MVP (“I’ve already spent 20 bucks,” Cunningham says), this is turning out to be the funniest Auburn game since, well, ever.
--There’s 6:10 left in the first half, and we have our first Lee Guess sighting! I’m excited not only because Guess has to be the first white Auburn receiver to make a reception since the late, great (OK, he’s neither) Justin Fetsko, but because he becomes the first and only Auburn football player (of the three) I taught during my time at AU to make any recordable impact on the field. Here’s to hoping he has a huge season, so my cocktail-party anecdotes about what papers he wrote and what grade I gave him get more interesting.
--Five minutes left in the half, and finally Auburn gets their touchdown, Brad Lester weaving his way in on a screen pass from 34 yards out. Lester has rather curiously taken advantage of Devin Aromashadu’s departure to switch to the “1” jersey, which I’m sure he’s hoping makes him look like #1 but to the JCCW, after four years of watching Aromashadu prancing about in it, just makes him look like a skinny wide receiver. A skinny wide receiver that happens to be a hell of a running back, yes, but still skinny.
--There’s a Tre Smith sighting as the half draws to a close, but like so many meaningful relationships, after four years, the thrill just isn’t there any more.


DR. JERRY PUNCH: Coach Tuberville, would you like to risk a disastrous falling-out with the college football coaches’ union by saying anything at your halftime interview that isn’t a cliché?
TUBERVILLE: No, but I will use the cliché “caught them with their pants down” to describe that screen pass, which you don’t often hear in this context.
DR. JERRY PUNCH: With good reason, Coach. Good luck in the second half!
TUBERVILLE: Click Clack!

Third quarter

--It takes all of one play from scrimmage for Irons to get his. 58 yards, touchdown. See, Brad, Kenny stuck with 23 and it doesn’t seem to hurt him. What was wrong with 28?
--AU’s Carl Stewart makes a couple of short plodding runs in the middle of the field, allowing Ron and Ed to lovingly gush about Stewart’s ability to play the violin. Apparently, if ESPN football announcers were in charge of awarding Nobel prizes, violin-playing running backs would come in somewhere behind Mother Theresa, but definitely ahead of, say, Jimmy Carter.
--Just as the game seems to be settling in for a drama-less 20-point-cushion-at-all-times second half, Wazzu brings in backup QB Gary Rogers and Auburn’s defense decides the boss won’t notice if they sneak out for a quick cig out back. Tight end Cody Boyd waltzes in from 50 yards, touchdown, 26-14, and…
-- … this is the Auburn offense’s response: rush for loss of 1, incompletion, sack. Way to seize the momentum back, guys.
--Um, OK. Will Herring runs for 40 yards on a fake punt. That’s great and all, but … with the defense Auburn’s got, do we really want to go running fake punts on 4th-and-15 inside our own 20 all the time? Isn’t this the sort of risk we ought to be labeling “not quite worth it”? And of course, worst of all, we’re about to get another season-ful of references to “Tommy Tuberville, Riverboat Gambler” every single time Auburn sends the special teams onto the field. I’d say, “Man, how quick is that going to get old?” but it’s already old by the time Ron and Ed are done with it. Blecch.
--Stewart misses Tommy Trott on a halfback pass, and Cunningham busts out with “That was a Fender [throw] when he needed a Stradivarius,” causing 3.5 million Alabamians to simultaneously go “Huh”? and the remaining 500,000 to explain, “He’s talking about a brand of electric guitar and a famous kind of violin, because, see, Stewart overthrew him and … nevermind.”
--VaughnBot 3000 decides going 5-for-5 might blow his cover, shanks a 36-yarder.
--Because apparently finishing a perfect 5-for-5 while directing a 90-yard drive isn’t good enough, Rogers is back on the bench while Alex “On the” Brink “Of Destruction” returns under center. His last six plays of the drive go incompletion-incompletion-incompletion (penalty first down)-incompletion-QB draw for no gain-incompletion. Of course. Cunningham stops short of calling the decision to reinsert Brink the stupidest idea since New Coke. But you can tell where he stands.

Fourth quarter

--Auburn takes over at their own 31, and Dr. Alfred Borg runs Irons and Lester right down Wazzu’s throat, calling rushes on eight of the drive’s nine plays. Lester caps it with a 12-yard TD. Doc Borg, as long as Auburn keeps running the ball like that in the fourth quarter, I for one don’t care how many players you abduct for your nefarious and demented experiments. Take all you want!
--Despite the new tees designed to cause shorter kickoffs and more returns, AU’s Matt Clark sends the kickoff deep into the end zone for the sixth time in seven tries, leading to this exchange between Ron and Ed:

RON: That Clark has got some leg. If you were standing 10 yards away and he kicked the ball into your head, why, I bet you wouldn’t even survive! [laughs jovially]
ED: You probably wouldn’t! That leg should be classified as a lethal weapon! [laughs jovially] Is Matt Clark even safe enough to let out on the streets? He should probably spend the rest of life in prison!
RON: Well what good would that do when he could just kick his way right through those concrete walls and continue his reign of terror, no matter what tee he was using? [Ron and Ed continue to share jovial laughter] First-and-10 for the Cougars …

(OK, I’m paraphrasing a bit.)

--Dr. Jerry Punch desperately tries to prove he’s a sportscaster AND a real medical doctor by dragging a skeleton onto the sidelines and using it to explain to viewers what an MCL and ACL are. I like you, Doc, but this is what’s commonly referred to as “trying way too damn hard.” That’s the technical journalistic term, anyway.
--Freshman AU safety Aairon Savage is called for a personal foul after the officials decide he went helmet-to-helmet with a Wazzu receiver. Seriously, it can’t help your standing with the zebras in these situations when your last name is “Savage,” can it?
--Will Herring caps a solid first performance at linebacker—and effectively ends any hope of a thrilling Wazzu comeback—by picking Brink off, somewhat surprisingly the game’s first (and as it would turn out, only turnover). Any of you still thinking about his years of experience at safety, forget it, he’s better at linebacker and the idea of playing Will in the secondary is now just a red … a red … I can’t go through with this. It’s just too terrible a joke. It’s tempting, but stopping there is what’s best for the children.
--You wouldn’t think it could be done, but Tre Smith manages to successfully encapsulate his entire four-year Auburn career in three plays. First-and-goal from the five, he squirms ahead to the 2. Second down, he launches himself airborne from the 4 when he should stay on the ground, and lands inside the 1. Third down, now that he’s close enough, he should try the “Bo over the top” method again, but instead runs smack into a wall of defenders. He wants the score so bad his legs keep churning even after he’s been turned upside-down and is sitting on his back, like a beetle or something. Now it’s fourth down, and in comes Stewart to stroll in for the TD. Ladies and gentlemen, Tre Smith: every single ounce of effort you could possibly want, but finally, when it counts, you’re going to want someone else on the field. Sad, sad, sad, but true. (Unless, of course, you’re throwing a pass to him. Then, by all means, use Tre Smith.)
--Your final score: Auburn 40, Evil Invaders from the Land of Apples, 14.

I’ll post more on this game in the next few days, but the bottom line is that despite Wazzu’s brainless decision to go back to the rattled Brink, the Cougars had one of the country’s most explosive offense last season and Auburn held them to 14 points. And despite Cox’s hiccups on third down, having 8 possessions of 11 end in points (with another ending in a FG miss) is pretty damn efficient no matter who you’re playing. There may be reason to downgrade Auburn’s massive expectations in the very near future (as in Sept. 16). But there weren’t any this week.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Last-minute predictions

So for Christmas THIS year, I wanna Auburn beating Wazzu on national TV, and a Georgia Tech upsetting Notre Dame, and a Tennessee vouching for the SEC with a win over Cal …

(Don’t lie. This feels like Christmas today and you know it.)

My long overdue feelings on the rest of the SEC and the national picture, in order of projected finish…

SEC East

6) Vandy

Boy, that Jay Cutler business was fun, wasn’t it? Still breaks my heart the ‘Dores could have gone bowling if they’d beaten friggin’ Middle Tennessee St. at home in midseason. But that’s why they’re Vandy. Oh, and this year? With Kentucky and Miss. St. improving, it’s back to the bottom of the league.

5) Kentucky

Really, the only news worth reporting here is that Jared Lorenzen is now the Giants’ backup, meaning we’re one cheap shot away from the Round Mound of Touchdown taking on the NFL. Oh, and Rafael Little will probably join J-Load in the League when he graduates … if Little played for Florida, he’d be a Heisman candidate, and the Gators might win the SEC

4) South Carolina

The trendy pick to win the whole division, mostly (far as I can tell) because there are abundant reasons to knock the Vols, Dawgs, and Gators. But there’s more reasons to knock the ‘Cocks, and not just because the punter/placekicker was their MVP Thursday night in Starkville. Why exactly should they be any better than last year, when the defense—the quiet strength of the 2005 team—lost 8 starters? Any offensive improvement should be offset by the defensive regression, meaning the other USC will end up exactly where they were last year. Although “exactly where they were last year” includes one big upset a la the Florida win last season … Auburn had best tread very carefully Sept. 28.

3) Georgia

The ‘Dawgs won’t be much worse than last season. Richt is, unfortunately for certain teams that play his every single season, arguably the nation’s most underrated coach (he’s the Bill Cowher of college football … one of these years, he’s going to get his big ring) and there’s won’t be much slippage. But with UGA stuck in one of those ugly “Do we play the hardworking-senior-who-bided-his-time-but-can’t-throw or the hotshot-freshman-who-hasn’t-earned-it-and-might-implode-at-any-time?” situations at QB, and those never, ever end prettily. Plus the Vols and Gators got better in the offseason.

2) Tennessee

I don’t think Cutcliffe is going to make that big a difference. What will make that big a difference is the sting of 5-6 and being expected to finish fourth in their division. Fulmer must be distantly related to Tubby—both their teams do much better when regarded lightly than when discussed in the national title picture. There’s enough talent here that hasn’t yet been arrested to challenge the Gators for the top of the division.

1) Florida

Yeah, I’m on the Meyer Kool-Aid. Everyone bitches and bitches about Leak not being the right fit for the system, but Leak was never the problem last season; he averaged more than six yards a carry. The problems were an offensive line that never wrapped its collective head around Meyer’s schemes and a nonexistent running game. Whether they find a tailback or not, the line should have its head screwed on straight, and Leak and the Gator wideouts should be able to give an outstanding D (20 bucks says Charlie Strong is the SEC’s next African-American head coach) more than enough points to work with.

SEC West

6) Mississippi St.

Croom will get there. Anyone who watched his defense terrorize the Gamecocks Thursday night ought to know that. If his team played in any other league in the country he’d probably corral a winning record this year. But this is the SEC, and as the offense is still a year away at minimum and everyone else in their division is getting better, too, it’s the SEC West cellar for 2006 again.

5) Ole Miss

I dunno, State might pip them for fifth. I’ll believe Orgeron can coach anything besides the defensive line when they actually look like beating anyone decent. But Schaeffer’s a good player and who am I to question the dozens of recruiting spreadsheets that say Orgeron pulled in the kind of class that can make a difference this season? A clear fifth at best, in either case.

4) Arkansas

Trust me: USC is going to smoke them tonight. I’m baffled as to why so many pundits (looking at you, Corso) have placed so much faith in an offensive coordinator who was coaching high school at this time last year and was hired solely in order to bring in a recruit. Sure, they should be able to run the ball, but McFadden's banged up ("banged" as in "the sound the gun made when it shot his foot") and what else will they be able to do? They simply weren’t that good last year, Nutt’s entire reputation is based on handful of big upsets that were years ago now (Auburn, Texas), and the road back to contention is longer than people are making it out to be.

3) Alabama

It’s not going to be a repeat of 2005, but it’s not going to be the collapse Auburn fans are hoping for, either. Croyle and Ryans are gone and Prothro may never come back, but Darby and Gilberry and some solid offensive linemen are still around and Shula’s a better coach than the guys helming the teams behind the Tide. Especially late in the season, when John Parker Wilson isn’t as distracted by seeing himself make cameos on “Two-a-Days” and knows what he’s doing, the Tide may be able to sneak up on someone (are you listening, Tigers?)

2) LSU

The second-best team in the conference, and it’s not even close. Russell’s so much better than people give him credit for, there’s still loads of depth on both lines, and the secondary might be the nation’s best. The problems? Well, Auburn standing in their way, for starters. But the schedule is killer: not just at Auburn, but at Tennessee and at Florida and at Arkansas, the Tigers’ long-time bogey team? Just too tough to win the division.

1) Auburn

Gone over this already.

The rest of the nation…

Big Ten: Ohio St. is almost the 2006 equivalent of that Oregon St. team that Sports Illustrated named their preseason No. 1 a few years ago and went like 7-5. Sure, Ohio St. has some amazing skill position guys, but they lost their entire defense … you can’t win a national title winning every game 38-35. In fact, you can’t even win your league when there’s a team as dangerous as Iowa lurking about. The Hawkeyes are another one of these teams that seem to make more noise when no one’s listening, and they have the conference’s best QB and best head coach. They should beat the Buckeyes at home and take the league title. In fact, they might take more than that …

Pac-10: Quietly the second-best conference in the country, but it’s still all about USC vs. Cal. USC is better than people are giving them credit for. And with the quarterback position solidified, Tedford should finally be able to gameplan the Golden Bears past the Trojans this season. Cal wins the Pac-10.

Big 12: Blecch. What it does it say when this is a two-team conference, and one of those teams (Oklahoma) is starting a wide receiver at quarterback? Plenty of pundits have gibbered on about how the Sooners are loaded everywhere besides QB, Paul Thompson has experience, Stoops won’t let them go 8-4, etc., but didn’t they say the same thing last season? Texas Tech will be their usual questionable 9-3 self, A&M will choke left and right again, and the entire North division is a wasteland. That leaves Texas. Freshman quarterbacks or not, I don’t see any reason Texas will be any weaker at QB than Oklahoma, and the Longhorns are even more loaded elsewhere than the Sooners. They’ll beat Oklahoma and they’ll win the Big 12.

Big East: West Virginia is very, very good. Louisville is even better. But I’ll believe either if teams can pull off an undefeated season when they do it. There’s plenty of teams on both schedules—South Florida, Connecticut, Pitt, even at Miss. St. for the Mountaineers—that could spring an upset, and after the Cardinals’ epic choke job against South Florida last year I have a hard seeing them dodge every bullet. Petrino’s bunch will beat Miami. And they’ll beat the Mountaineers. But they won’t make the BSC title game.

ACC: Remember when this was supposed to become the nation’s best conference? Instead we’re about to watch Florida St. hobble their way to another 8-5 “championship” season. No other conference in the country has more beat-anyone-one-week-lose-to-anyone-the-next teams: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, N.C. State … could the league be any more schizophrenic? They should invite Michigan St. to join the league just on general principle.

Notre Dame: You know, I’ve already written about this team, so I’m just going to cut-and-paste: “Ohio St. Notre Dame is almost the 2006 equivalent of that Oregon St. team that Sports Illustrated named their preseason No. 1 a few years ago and went like 7-5. Sure, Ohio St. Notre Dame has some amazing skill position guys, but … you can’t win a national title winning every game 38-35.” Georgia Tech is going to shut down the hype machine tonight.

Mid-majors: The first annual BCS charity case should be Utah. Fresno St. is year-in-year-out the mid-majors’ best program, but the Bulldogs live for beating BCS teams and nothing else, and they’ll get “nothing else” in the WAC yet again.

And the winner is…

Have you seen Iowa’s schedule? There’s two games on it. One is the aforementioned home date with an Ohio St. defense Drew Tate and company should shred. The other is their only tough road game of note—at Michigan, only the country’s most overrated home venue and a team Ferentz has all but owned (OK, they lost in OT to the Wolverines last year, but that just means the Hawkeyes are due). They’ll finish the regular season undefeated.

But no one else will—the teams with the talent to manage it are in the SEC, which is simply too deep to let it happen. So who’ll join Iowa? Texas. The Longhorns’ inexperience at quarterback will cost them against Ohio St., but as McCoy (or Snead) comes along and the running game and defense dominate their well-water schedule, they won’t lose another game. Thanks to Texas’ having absorbed their loss earlier than any of what I expect to be a gaggle of one-loss teams (Louisville, Auburn, the Cal-USC winner), the Longhorns will be ranked second in the polls and will play—and beat—Iowa in the BSC title game. Once again, the national title will be disputed, once again the BCS will be compared to various diseases, and once again despite it all college football won’t get any closer to a playoff.

Weekly picks

I've been trying to figure out for a while how I would do if I was a college football gambler. So each week, as an experiment, I'm going to look at the spread and make three fake bets. I'll tally up the totals week-by-week and see if I'd make any money. This week's picks:

USC (-8) over Arkansas: USC has so much more talent all over the field it's unbelievable to me people are expecting the Hogs to even hang close in this game. The Trojans roll.

Utah (+3) over UCLA: UCLA lost a ton of people, Utah didn't, and Utah's Meyer-esque schemes work even better against teams that haven't seen it before (i.e. UCLA). Utah should win going away.

Bowling Green (+11) over Wisconsin: This game is essentially a home game for Bowling Green--it's being held in Cleveland. Bowling Green put up a great fight last season against a much better Wisky team than this year's version, and now they're at home? 11 points should be plenty.